Writing on the World Wide Web is is fraught with temptation. Maybe you think the last line you typed just might go viral, with all its wit and bite. Maybe you’ll be the one to break the story on the next Twitter outrage. Or maybe you leave comments like this (actual) one:
After reading some of your material, I would like to pray for your soul, if indeed you have one. Such bitter individuals do more to hurt your sick concerns. God help you and me because I WILL HAVE TO PRAY VERY HARD TONIGHT NOT TO WISH YOU OFF MY EARTH AND THAT YOU WILL BURN ETERNALLY.
The Internet is full of angry people like this. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read intelligent, witty commentary that doesn’t hold back, but doesn’t stoop down to wrestle in the mud either.
Mike Rowe is the host of various TV shows that highlight the unpopular “dirty jobs” that make our civilization what it is and the men and women who put in the mostly thankless hours. Mike often performs the work of the profession he is highlighting on the show, and usually ends up falling into something filthy.
One dirty job Mike himself performs is maintaining an Internet presence. Mike established a foundation called “mikeroweWorks,” which helps people find the skills to land jobs. But some aren’t thankful for his encouragement. Recently, a commenter posted a rant against Mike’s initiative. “Your constant harping on “work ethic” is growing tiresome…. How can you expect someone with no role model to qualify for one of your scholarships or sign your silly ‘Sweat Pledge?’”
This critic gives us a nice example of typical internet anger. It would be easy to respond in kind and generate lots of support from fans. But Mike’s lengthy response to this attack is remarkable for its patience, humor, and civil disagreement. Notice how he can defend himself, make intelligent points, and be humorous all at the same time, even on the Internet.
If you want know his method for measured, intelligent responding, he provides a guide in the comments section below his post (don’t grouse too loudly about his typos):
It's varies, but for the most part it's a multi-step process. The first step is utterly random. Scan the Wall, and see if anything jumps out and makes me want to respond. The second step involves a beverage - today was a Dos Equis. The third step is a game I play called “Deadline.” I imagine I'm working for The Wall Street Journal, and have a thousand words that need to go to press in 24 hours. I write quickly, and try to imagine I'm smarter than I am. The fourth step involves sending it to my boss to see if she thinks I've said something intemperate. Invariably, I have. So I almost always incorporate her wise counsel, (almost,) sleep on it, read it in the morning, forget to check the spelling, and hit send.
Next time you post something online, be like Mike. On the dirty job of social media, unlike the usual jobs on his show, he doesn’t fall into the muck.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.